THE BURN

Kathy De

A mishap forces Vincent to help Catherine and their relationship takes an unexpected leap in the right direction.

Catherine sat in misery on the edge of her bed. She slowly pulled her satin nightgown down over her head. She winced as the slim spaghetti straps of the gown scraped across her shoulders. Just then a quiet knock came at her balcony door. "Oh, great," she thought. She stood and drew the matching robe over her shoulders and gathered it loosely around her as she shuffled to the door. Opening it, she made her way out to the balcony.

"Hi, Vincent."

Normally Catherine flew into his arms to greet him. Vincent cocked his head curiously at her, wondering about her strange welcome. "Good evening, Catherine."

She managed a slight smile as she turned away to lean against the half wall. Vincent frowned at her behavior and reached out through the bond trying to ascertain her feelings. He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. The only feeling he was getting was discomfort and Catherine looked perfectly fine to him.

"Catherine, I know you asked me to stop by tonight but if itís a bad time I can come another night."

She felt miserable and knew she wouldnít be very good company tonight and tears swam in her eyes as she looked up at him and nodded. "Okay."

Vincent stepped forward immediately concerned. "Catherine, what is it?"

Vincent normally didnít initiate their embraces and he had only recently started to do so. It was only in the past few months or so that their relationship had started to grow stronger. Now he felt comfortable with her and bravely tried to put his arms around her but Catherine screamed out and pushed him away. He looked down at her in horror. "Iím sorry. Iíll go now."

Catherine blinked when in one quick step, he turned from her. She realized too late what he mustíve thought and he was almost over the side when her voice stopped him.


"Vincent, no! Iím sorry."

He hesitated and came back over the side but stood far away from her, looking at the ground. "Catherine, you donít have to..."

"No, listen to me please!"

The tears fell from her eyes as she looked at him in misery. He cocked his head curiously and nodded his acquiescence. She smiled sadly. "Vincent, I didnít mean to push you away but when you put your arms around me you hurt me."


Vincent immediately looked at his hands and at the look of horror on his face, Catherine quickly explained. "No, I didnít mean you hurt me...well, yes I did...oh for Peteís sake...Vincent, I got burned today."

"Burned?"

Catherine nodded miserably. "Yes, a sunburn."

"A sunburn?"

In her pain, Catherine lost her patience. "Will you quit repeating everything I say? Yes, a sunburn! Itís all over my back and shoulders and down the backs of my legs."

Catherine turned around and lowered her robe down off her shoulders. Vincent looked down at the intense red color that was all over her neck and shoulders. The same color ran down her back and disappeared below her gown. He had never experienced a sunburn but even he could tell it looked painful.

"Oh, Catherine. How can I help?"

She shrugged as she gasped and drew the robe back over her shoulders. "You canít. Itíll be painful for a few days, then itíll go away."

He nodded, fully understanding now why she pulled away. "How did it happen? I mean...I know how it happened..."

She rolled her eyes in embarrassment. "Are you nicely trying to ask how someone as seemingly intelligent as myself could allow something like this to happen?" She shook her head in disgust. "Jenny and I went to the beach. We slathered on plenty of lotion and we were having a pleasant day, until we turned over and fell asleep. Her back matches mine."

He smiled ruefully. "Iím sorry. Is it very painful?"

She nodded. "Yes."

"I wish there was something I could do..."

Catherine looked at him quizzically. He caught the look in her eye and cocked his head. "Is there? Is there something I can do for you?"

Catherine hesitated briefly then shook her head no.

Vincent knew she was holding something back. "Are you sure? I want to help if I can."

She looked at him hopefully. "Well, there is one thing..."

He sensed that she was still hesitant so he took her hand and smiled, prompting her further. "Catherine, please you must tell me."

"Vincent, could you put some cream on my back?"

He took a step back and looked at her. Catherine saw the fear in his eyes and quickly shook her head. "Itís okay, Iíll figure out another way. I shouldnít have asked."

She looked away but not before Vincent could see the disappointment flicker in her eyes. He released the breath he was holding then filled his lungs with another deep breath. With a sigh of resignation, he looked at her. He knew she was in pain and he couldnít allow it to continue if it was in his power to stop it. He bravely pushed forward.

"What would I have to do?"

Catherine looked at him cautiously. The fear was gone from his eyes but he had such a look of fierce determination that she began to giggle. He blinked in disbelief at her apparent amusement at the situation which caused her to laugh even harder. Her shoulders began to shake and she winced as the straps dug into the burn again.

"Ouch!"

Vincent stepped forward again. "Catherine..."

She looked at him apologetically. "Sorry. I bought a jar of cream that normally helps with sunburn. I just need you to spread it on my back and shoulders."

He nodded then remembered what her back looked like and he wondered how far down it went. "How...how much of your back has been burned?"

Catherine grimaced. "All of it! Jenny and I untied our tops so that we wouldnít get a tan line!" She chuckled. "I guess I donít have that to worry about."

Vincentís stomach flip flopped as the image of Catherine and Jenny lying in the sand with their tops undone blazed in his mind. He cleared his throat so he could speak. "And Iím supposed to spread this cream on your entire back?"

Catherine nodded. "Yes. I thought that I could maybe lie face down on the bed, cover myself with a towel...then if you would...you know..." As the fear returned to his eyes, she stopped and thought for a second. Her face brightened as she came up with another solution. "You know...I have a backless nightgown, I could put that on..."

Vincent nodded quickly in relief. "That perhaps is a better idea."

"If I did it would you come inside?"

Vincent thought for a second, loath to deny her simple request. Catherine knew Vincent was uncomfortable with the thought of coming inside and searched her mind for yet another solution.

She smiled and shook her head. "Actually, as long as the gown is backless, you could probably put the cream on out here." Before he could change his mind she turned. "Iíll be right back."

Catherine went to her bureau and dug out the backless nightgown. She headed to the bathroom and cried out as she struggled to get her old gown off. The new one slipped on more easily and thankfully it had a halter top. She sighed at the open air on her back. She looked at the robe pooled at her feet and knew that once the cream was applied she wouldnít put it back on. She grabbed the cream off the counter in the bathroom and headed to the balcony.

Vincent jumped when he felt her return. Catherine normally wore a robe with her gowns, he looked at her in the satin backless gown and his heart began to thump wildly as he quickly averted his eyes. Catherine winced in pain as she reached out with her arm to hand him the cream, her face pale from the strain. Vincentís concern for her forced him to settle his nerves as he got to the task at hand. He opened the jar and looked at the cream inside.

Catherine smiled and nodded. "Dig in, grab a glob and start slathering." She turned away and looked out over the city. "Just go easy."

Vincent did as she advised and felt the cool white cream on his fingertips. He put his hand up to her shoulder and hesitated. "Catherine, I donít want to hurt you."

"Vincent, nothing you do could possibly make it hurt worse then it already does."

Vincent placed his fingertips on her shoulder. She flinched but stayed still. As he slowly moved the cream around her slender shoulders, she moaned. The coolness in the cream was already soothing the burning sensation. He efficiently moved from area to area carefully spreading the cream on one shoulder then the other. He could feel the heat coming from her back and marveled at the damage the sun could do. He had to sit in a chair to see what he was doing as he started to move his way down her back, gently applying cream to all the exposed areas. He often went back and dipped his fingers for more cream until he had generously covered her back.

He finished and looked at her back satisfactorily. "Itís done. Do you feel any better?"

"Oh, Vincent, I wish I could tell you how much better it feels. Thank you, I donít know what I would have done without you."

He held up his hand covered with cream. Catherine handed him a towel. "Itís a moisturizer, you can rub it into your hands, or if you want you can wash your hands in the bathroom."

Vincent rubbed his hands vigorously together until the cream had soaked in. Catherine sat down carefully in the chair across from him. She had perfect posture as she sat straight up, not allowing the back of the chair to touch her.

"Perhaps I should leave so you can get some rest..."

"Please stay! I wonít sleep tonight anyway. Iíll never be able to lie down..."

Vincent nodded his head in understanding, while Catherine looked miserably at the floor. "How could I have been so stupid? Iíve never fallen asleep in the sun before, I know the risks!"

"You and Jenny must have both be exhausted. I imagine she keeps the same hours as you."

Catherine nodded her answer then lowered her head again. "We were going to do so much this weekend. Iím sorry I ruined our plans."

Vincent shook his head trying to dispel her sadness. "Catherine, itís an unfortunate accident. There will be other weekends."

Catherine ignored him and looked out at the lights, thinking aloud. "Maybe...I can still come Below. If I put on loose clothing and donít wear a bra..."

Catherine rambled on as she spoke of her clothing choices. Vincent blushed and looked away as images raced through his mind. Catherine, who was oblivious to his state of mind, wondered why he had grown quiet but she still hadnít caught on to the reason.

She turned sideways to look at him. "Is that okay with you, Vincent?"

Vincent looked at her with a question in his eyes. "Iím...sorry, my mind wandered for a moment. Is what okay, Catherine?"

Catherine smiled and touched his arm. "Is it okay with you if I still come Below? We canít do everything we originally planned but if you wouldnít mind maybe we could spend some quiet time in our favorite places."

Vincent smiled and nodded. "You know you will always be welcome Below. Perhaps a relaxing day by the Mirror Pool followed by a concert in the park, if Iím not mistaken, there is one scheduled for tomorrow night."

Catherineís eyes lit up. "Iíd forgotten! Youíre not mistaken, there is a concert scheduled. Thank you, Vincent. Maybe weíll be able to salvage this weekend after all."

She impulsively reached up and kissed his cheek. Not wanting to let him make a fuss she turned quickly before he could react. "Maybe we could have a picnic by the waterfall, then Iíll bring some things for us to enjoy at the concert."

Vincentís cheek still tingled where she had kissed it but he silently nodded in agreement. Catherine reached for him and he watched as she winced in pain, a jolting reminder to her of her carelessness.

"Catherine, perhaps you should pack more of the cream as well, I have a feeling youíre going to need it."

Catherineís eyes had filled with tears but she blinked them away. "I will."

Vincent cocked his head. "I could read to you for awhile, perhaps if you could sit on a blanket..."

Catherine nodded and went inside the doorway. She returned with a blanket. Vincent took it from her then spread it out on the balcony floor. Catherine lowered herself to it gingerly then Vincent sat down close to her. Catherine smiled gratefully. She was happy he sat near her, she was hoping she wouldnít have to scoot over and bridge the gap between them like she usually did.

Vincent settled back and opened the book and Catherine was able to lean against him. Her back was open to the air and the gentle breeze helped cool the fire that was still burning there. Vincent began to read and Catherine eventually closed her eyes and fell into a light sleep.

Vincent read for another hour. He knew Catherine was exhausted and he didnít want her spending the night on the balcony. He turned his head and spoke quietly into her hair. "Catherine, I think you should get some rest."

"Hmmm."

"Come on, Iíll help you get up."

Catherine leaned upright and winced as pain shot across her back. "Ouch!"

Vincent stood up then leaned over and placed his hands on either side of her waist. "Can you put your arms around my neck, Catherine?"


She tried and cried out then shook her head. Vincent thought of another way. "Grab onto my shirt and hold tight."

Catherine did and Vincent tightened his grip and easily lifted her to a standing position.

"Thank you, Vincent. I guess I probably shouldnít have sat so low to the ground."

"Iíll go now, you should get some sleep."

Catherine stepped forward and put her head against his chest. Vincentís arms stayed on her waist as he tucked her head under his chin. "Feel better."

She stepped back, nodded and smiled as he turned to leave. "See you tomorrow."

"Goodnight, Catherine."

*****************************

Vincent headed to the library to tell Father he was back from Catherineís.

Father smiled when his son walked in. "Ahh, Vincent, I trust you had a good evening with Catherine..."

Knowing it was more a statement then a question, Vincent decided to answer anyway. "I always enjoy my visits with Catherine. Although, I believe tonight there was very little about the evening for her to enjoy."


Father looked back up from his book and furrowed his brow. He worried that something bad had happened. Catherine always enjoyed Vincentís company. "Whyís that?"

"She was at the beach today and got burned."

Father raised his eyebrows, immediately concerned. "Sunburned?"

Vincent nodded. "Yes, all over her back and shoulders and down her legs."

"Is it bad?"

Vincent shrugged. "Catherineís actions lead me to believe itís quite painful."

"Well, I know itís painful... I meant how badly is she burned? Did you see it?"

"Yes, I put cream on her back for her."

"Well, howíd it look?"

Vincent shook his head in exasperation. "I donít know...Iíve only ever seen a few children with reddened cheeks, I have nothing to compare it to..."

Father leaned forward. "Vincent, I donít want to alarm you but sunburns can be very severe. Itís much the same as any other burn, sometimes they blister and drain. Sometimes the person gets high fever and vomits."

Vincent blinked in surprise. "Catherine didnít have any of those symptoms."

"What about blisters?"

"We were on her balcony, itís normally quite dark..."

Father nodded and looked away thoughtfully. "Well, perhaps if sheís not better tomorrow she should go to see Peter."

"Father, Catherine is spending the day Below tomorrow, perhaps if you wouldnít mind...?"


Father waved his hand dismissively. "Yes, of course, Vincent. Bring her to me either way and Iíll see if she lets me take a look at her back." A thought came into Fatherís mind. "You say you put cream on her back?"

Vincent nodded. "Yes, she said it was a special cream for sunburns. It seemed to help."

A picture of Catherine with her back exposed as Vincent rubbed her full of cream had Father wondering just how far their relationship had progressed. He shook his head, trying to clear the image and wisely decided to keep his opinions to himself "Yes, well...I imagine the relief was only temporary. Weíll see what we can do tomorrow."

Vincent kissed his fatherís forehead. "Thank you, Father. Goodnight."

"Goodnight, Vincent."

Vincent turned and left as a small smile crept onto Fatherís face. "Pleasant dreams..." He chuckled quietly under his breath.

****************************

Catherine slept restlessly, the pain in her back waking her often. In the early morning hours she finally fell into a deep sleep but the phone ringing a short time later had her moaning aloud as she reached for her receiver.

"Hello."

"My back hurts so much!"

"Hi, Jen. Mine too!"

"Cath, Iím going to have to go to the doctor. I woke up this morning and have blisters all over my shoulders. I got burned worse than I thought."

Catherine got up and stood in front of the mirror and glanced at her shoulders. She gasped when she saw blisters there as well. "Oh, no! Me too! How could we have been so stupid?"

Jenny chuckled. "At least we were both stupid together. Do you want to come with me to the doctor?"

Catherine thought of Father. She wondered how much experience he had with sunburns then shrugged and decided to take a chance. "No, Jen. Iíll go see Peter."

Catherine felt guilty for a few seconds lying to Jenny but then realized if Father didnít know how to handle it, he would consult with Peter anyway.

"You take it easy today, okay?"

"You too, bye Jen. Thanks for calling."


Catherine hung up the phone and headed for the shower. Luckily, she had installed a shower head that could be removed so she was able to wash her hair and clean her body with little water contact to her back. She walked to the closet and took out a button up the front blouse that was too big for her. "At least it wonít be digging into me. I hope it keeps me warm enough," she thought aloud. She moaned as she struggled to get it over her shoulders. She threw on some oversized pants grateful that the material would not cling to her legs. She looked at the mirror and stuck her tongue out at the image. "Not exactly the seductive look I hoped for but at least the burn doesnít hurt."

Catherine headed to the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of wine and some chocolate she had bought for a special occasion. She opened her drawer and took the bottle opener out and packed it and all of the rest of the items into a small duffel bag.

She walked to a shelf in her living room and grabbed a book she had found last week in an antique shop. She hoped Vincent hadnít read it yet and they could discover it together. She walked out of her apartment and then rolled her eyes at her forgetfulness and turned around to go back to her bathroom to grab the sunburn cream.

Catherine groaned in pain as she made her way down the ladder. Two rungs down, she felt hands grasp her waist and she smiled as she released the bars, same in the knowledge that Vincent would bring her down safely.

Her feet touched the ground and she looked up into his eyes. "Hi, thanks for the lift."

"You were in pain."

"Yeah, it hurt worse then I thought it would. I should have walked to the park entrance but itís such a nice day, I was afraid there would be too many eyes about."

"It does present a problem when the park is busy."

Vincent bent over and took the bag from Catherineís hands then reached out with his free hand and took her hand in his. He turned and headed towards the home tunnels.

"How are you feeling today?"

Catherine shrugged, unwilling to complain. "Okay."

Vincent looked down at her and tried to see her eyes. Catherine wouldnít look at him so he suspected she was withholding the truth. "Father said he would take a look at the burn if you wanted him to."

Catherine nodded ruefully. "I suppose that would be best. Itís gotten worse."

Vincent looked at her with alarm. "Blisters?"

With tears in her eyes, she nodded again. "Yes."

"Then we should see him right away."

Catherine took a few steps then stopped. "Vincent? Um...you may want to ask if he wouldnít mind meeting us in the hospital chamber."

Vincent squeezed her hand, immediately concerned. "Catherine, are they that bad?"

Tears fell onto her cheeks. "Yes! Theyíre oozing all kinds if stuff. I can feel the back of my shirt starting to stick to me."

Vincent bent over and tapped out a message on the pipes. He turned back to her and scowled. "I wish I could hold you and make the pain go away." Instead he had to settle for wiping the tears from her cheeks. "Father will be waiting."

Catherine let him take the lead the rest of the way home.

*********************************

Father and Mary were sitting in the hospital chamber waiting for Vincent and Catherine. Father frowned as they walked in noticing immediately that Catherine appeared to be pale.

"Well now young lady, have we learned from our mistake?"

Catherine looked up sheepishly and nodded. "Yes."

Mary shook her head and came forward. "Jacob, enough! She feels miserable as it is." Mary turned to Catherine. "Come dear. Letís get you into something that you can wear so Father can see how much damage youíve done."

Mary led Catherine behind the curtain. She helped Catherine wiggle out of her clothing. Catherine turned around and Mary caught sight of her back and gasped.

"My goodness!"

Catherine nodded. "Lovely isnít it."

Mary shook her head and clucked her disapproval then handed Catherine a sheet to cover her front. "Cover yourself and sit up on the table."

Catherine did as she was told as Mary disappeared around the drawn curtain. Mary walked to the supply cabinet and talked to Father completely ignoring Vincent.

"The poor dear, huge bubbling blisters, some broken open, some not. Her shirt must have rubbed her all the way here, her skin looks raw in some places. Sheís in a lot of pain."

Father sighed and looked at Vincent. "This may take awhile. Please go and find Catherine something more suitable to wear."

Vincent nodded and left.

Mary walked up with some gauze and ointments. "Iím ready, Father."

Father nodded. "Good let me wash my hands and I can get a look at our patient."

Father scrubbed his hands and put on protective gloves. He walked around the corner of the curtain and gasped. "Dear God!"

Catherine looked over her shoulder and grimaced. "With that kind of a reaction itís good that you play chess not poker."

Father ignored her attempt at a joke. "Cathy, your burns are very severe!"

Catherine sighed and looked down. "Thatís what I was afraid of...should I go to the hospital?"

Father came closer and extensively looked at her back. With a sigh, he finally responded. "No, I think we can handle it from here. Weíre going to have to keep a constant eye on it. I should check it a least twice a day, if possible three times a day."

"I have work in two days."

Father looked at her thoughtfully. "Well, maybe by Monday we can get this to look a little better. If you promise to come before work and after work..." He shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe..." He seemed to be thinking about it then finally nodded. "Yes, I think we will be able to successfully treat this."

"Thank you, Father."

Father turned to the tray Mary had prepared and distractedly answered her. "Hmmm..." He looked at her back again. "This is probably going to be painful. Iíll try to be as gentle as I can but..."

Fatherís voice trailed off as he realized she would be hurt regardless of how careful he was.

Catherine finished his sentence. "But you canít make any promises. Its okay, Father, I know it will hurt. Letís just get it over with."

Catherine bowed her head and waited for the pain. Father started dabbing at her back with cloths soaked in water. He needed to clean the area as best he could. Catherine held her breath and chewed her bottom lip. She had yet to vocalize her pain but Mary could see that they were coming close to a more painful area of the back. She had heard Vincent return earlier.

"Father?"

Years of working closely together enabled Father to know what Mary was asking. He frowned and looked again at the raw area then reluctantly nodded his acquiescence. Mary went to talk to Vincent. He stood up as she approached.

"Vincent, Father is getting to a rough area on Catherineís back. Itís going to be quite painful to clean. He has agreed that you may come in to sit with Catherine to support her."

Vincent nodded gratefully. "Sheís in a lot of pain already."

"Itís going to get worse."

Vincent followed Mary around the curtain and got his first good look at Catherineís back. Clearly distressed, he allowed a moan to escape. Father shot him a warning look and Vincent nodded then went to sit if front of Catherine.

She looked up at him with tear filled eyes. "Hi, it must be getting to a bad part if theyíve called in reinforcements."

Vincent cocked his head and smiled that she could read him so well. "You could tell?"

"I can see the worry in your eyes."

Vincent reached and took her hands into his own. He looked up and nodded at Father. Father sighed and started to clean her back again. Catherine hissed and leaned forward putting her head against Vincentís forehead.

Vincent whispered in her ear. "Squeeze my hands."

Catherine squeezed lightly and Vincent smiled at her continued attempt to keep her pain from him. Father dabbed at the worst part of her back and Catherine moaned squeezing Vincentís hands with incredible power. Vincent felt a low growl escape him.


Father shot him a disapproving look. Vincent blushed and shook his head, his eyes offering an apology. Father realized Vincent couldnít control his impulse to protect and nodded understandingly to his son then continued cleaning the area.

Vincent lowered his head next to Catherine while she held his hands. He was surprised how much pressure Catherine was exerting on his hands and he realized it was actually beginning to hurt as her nails dug into his flesh. Father finally stepped back and nodded.

Vincent leaned over and whispered in her ear. "I think the worst part is over...Are you okay?"

Catherine nodded as tears fell onto their clasped hands. Vincent looked up and found a box of tissue on a nearby table. Mary saw his intent and scooted it closer to where he could reach it. Vincent smiled his thanks, grabbed a few and handed them to Catherine.

She took them and dabbed carefully at her eyes and nose. Father finally stood up and nodded approvingly at his work. "Okay, thatís it for now. Mary, we canít wrap gauze around this so what would you think if we took a surgical cloth and taped it to her rib cage? The tape would not touch the burned areas and the cloth would absorb any fluids and keep the area dry as well as protect it from the fibers of her clothing..."

Mary nodded. "Thatís a fine idea. I can take care of that as soon as you two leave." She turned to Vincent. "Did you bring me a gown?"

Vincent squeezed Catherineís hands and stood. "Yes, itís in the other room, but what about Catherineís legs?"

Fatherís eyebrows rose. "Her legs? Donít tell me her legs have been burned as well?" Father looked at Catherine who nodded her confirmation. Father rolled his eyes and sighed. "Vincent, wait in the other room while I examine her."

Vincent left and Father examined Catherineís thighs and calves. "Well, theyíre burned but not nearly as severe as your back. Iíll give you some cream to apply and just try to keep them moisturized." He stood. "Now, can I give you something for the pain?"

Catherine shook her head. "No, itís bad but Iím okay."

Father looked closely at her eyes then decided she was telling the truth. "I can give you some ibuprofen, thatís relatively mild."

"I took some this morning before I came down."

Father nodded. "Okay, when I check you again in a few hours, Iíll give you another dosage. Now, let me leave and Mary will get you bandaged up so to speak and help you put on the gown Vincent found."

Catherine smiled weakly. "Thank you, Father."

He smiled back and came forward and kissed her forehead. "Youíre welcome my dear."

Mary came around the corner with the gown from Vincent so Father left the room while she busied herself helping Catherine.


Vincent sat at the table looking forlorn. He looked up apologetically as his father joined him.

"Father...Iím sorry...I."

With a smile, Father reached forward and patted his hand. "Let me guess...you donít know what came over you. Vincent, itís natural to want to protect the ones you love from being hurt. I understand, forget about it." Vincent nodded gratefully and squeezed his fatherís arm. "Now what do you and Catherine have planned for today?"

Vincent shrugged. "We were going to have a picnic by the falls but..."

Father smiled. "That sounds relaxing. A nice quite day is just what the doctor ordered."

"So its okay, Catherine is well enough to go?"

"Yes. Bring an extra blanket in case she gets chilled but I think she will be fine."

Catherine and Mary came from around the corner. Catherine looked beautiful in the same gown she had worn the very first time she had been down here. She smiled at Vincent. "You kept this?"

He shrugged shyly and looked down. Mary winked at Catherine. "Yes, just in case he found another woman in the park that needed rescuing."


Seeing Maryís look, Father chuckled. "Yes, he always brought things from the world Above for me to save. Young birds barely covered with feathers, abandoned kittens, a baby bunny...I never thought it would turn into women."

Vincentís head snapped up. "I would never bring another woman..."

He stopped as he realized he was being teased.

Catherine chuckled and put her arms around his waist. "Thatís comforting to hear."

Mary waved her arms. "Okay, you two need to shoosh...I need to clean up in here and Catherine?" Mary looked at her. "In a few hours, weíll need to see you again."

Father nodded in agreement. "After lunch. Perhaps Mary could show you were you may take a bath. I am sure a nice long soak will do wonders for your skin. Then perhaps we can apply some cream to it to help with the tenderness."

Vincent reached for her hand. "Come, Catherine. I had William prepare a picnic. If you feel up to it weíll head to the Chamber of the Falls."

***********************

Vincent and Catherine spent a leisurely morning reading and talking by the falls. Close to the noon hour, Vincentís stomach grumbled loudly.

Catherine giggled. "Iím getting hungry too. Should we eat now?"

Vincent opened the basket and Catherine helped him spread the meal out on the blanket. They enjoyed Williamís feast of meats and cheeses, soup and bread. Cold water was nearby and at Fatherís insistence, Catherine opted for that instead of tea.

After lunch, Vincent put his head back against the rock and closed his eyes. Catherine looked over at him and smiled. "Vincent, lie down and use my lap for a pillow."

Vincentís head shot up and he looked at her in shock, not believing what he had heard. "What?"

"I said lie down, put your head on my lap and use it as a pillow."

"Catherine, I...I"

Catherine smiled and pulled on his arm. "Címon I wonít bite, I promise."

Vincent hesitated then allowed her to pull him down. She placed his head on her lap and then picked up the book. As she read, she absently ran her fingers through his hair.

Vincent was wound as tight as a coil but gradually came to relax and enjoy himself. His eyes drifted close and he fell into a light sleep. Catherine continued to read. She smiled down at him as he seemed to be enjoying himself. About an hour later, her back began to hurt again. She realized that it was well after the time she was due to see Father.

"Vincent?"

Vincent rolled over and buried his face against her knee. "Hmmm."

"Vincent, wake up..."

Vincent sighed and snuggled closer to her. She smiled as he slowly came awake. The realization of her discomfort had him shoot up and look at her in horror. "Catherine, are you okay?"

She raised her hand and caressed his cheek. "Vincent, Iím fine. But Iím late for my appointment with Father."

He blinked a few times and tried to wake up. "And your backís starting to hurt again..."

Catherine nodded. "Yes. Iím sorry, I didnít want to have to wake you."

"Itís I who should be sorry. I canít believe I fell asleep."

"You keep longer hours than I do. You must have needed the sleep."

Vincent stood and dusted the dirt off his legs. "I hope Father is as forgiving as you."

Catherine giggled and helped him clean up from their morning together. They walked hand in hand to the hospital chamber.

***********************

Father and Mary were enjoying tea when Vincent and Catherine entered the room.

Father looked up gruffly. "Youíre quite late!"

Catherine blushed and in her haste to explain why they were late, blurted out the first thing that came to her mind. "I know. Iím sorry. Vincent laid his head on my lap while I read and he fell asleep. He looked so peaceful I hated to wake him."

Vincentís jaw dropped open and he looked quickly at the floor, covering his face behind a curtain of hair. Father hid a smirk while Mary stood up gleefully.

"He is quite handsome when heís sleeping isnít he?" She took Catherineís arm and started to lead her away while she continued. "You should have seen him as a baby he was quite the looker..."

Her voice grew faint as they disappeared into the outer corridors. Father looked at Vincent who appeared to be looking for a hole to crawl into.

He took mercy on him and decided to let his son know he understood. "I remember doing much the same thing one day when Margaret and I enjoyed a day in the park." He looked over at Vincent who was raising his head with curiosity. Father looked away before Vincent could catch him and he continued with his story. "We had brought a picnic basket and I stuffed myself silly trying to show her how much I enjoyed the meal she prepared. I stretched out on my back on the grass and placed my head into her lap. She was running her fingers through my hair and I only closed my eyes for the briefest of moments and found myself waking an hour later. Margaret said my snoring scared away all the squirrels."

Father chuckled quietly then looked at Vincent. Vincent smiled appreciatively then nodded his head. "At least I didnít chase away any squirrels."

Father laughed. "No probably just a Mouse."

"A mouse?"


"Yes, I sent Mouse to look for you earlier, he never returned."

"I am sorry, Father."

Father waved his hand dismissively. "Vincent, Iím not so old that I donít remember what it is to be in love. Mary and I visited while we waited for your return. Mary was taking Catherine to one of the heated bath chambers. Hopefully a long soak will soften some of the dead skin and we can clean it and reapply ointment with much less pain to Catherine."

"Perhaps while sheís soaking, Iíll prepare a place for her to rest. She should take some more ibuprofen then lie down. We had planned on going to a concert in the park tonight. I hope she feels up to it."

Father shrugged. "Iím sure if she rests this afternoon sheíll be ready."

Vincent left to prepare a bed in one of the guest chambers. As long as he was going to have to walk to the laundry chamber, he quickly changed the sheets on his own bed. He walked with his arms full of dirty linen and dumped them in the baskets in the empty laundry chamber.

On his way back to Catherine, a call came for him over the pipes. He listened and with a sigh, headed to fix a burst water pipe on Level 8.

Catherine soaked in the bath for a long time. Loose skin from broken blisters hung from her back as she gently used a back scrubber to loosen them. Mary came in and helped her get what she missed. Catherine got out of the bath and pulled a towel around herself as Mary showed her to a better lighted area of the chamber.

Mary motioned for her to turn around and nodded. "Hmmm, looks clean. Let me apply some of this ointment. Perhaps Father can look at it again tonight before you go home."

Catherine smiled. "Okay, thanks for all your help. I really didnít mean for you to have more work. You have so much to do down here without me adding more. How can I make it up to you?"

Mary waved her hand. "Nonsense, you donít need to do anything..."


Catherine shook her head. "Mary! I tell you what...if you werenít with me right now where would you be?"

"I would be reading to the three and four year olds."

"Okay, next week. Iím going to read to the group and youíre going to have an hour to take a relaxing bath. Do we have a deal?"


Mary laughed. "Okay, itís a deal."

Mary finished with the ointment and put a protective cloth on her back again. Catherine slipped into her gown and the two women left the chamber together. Mary headed to the nursery, Catherine headed for the library, assuming Vincent waited for her there.

*******************************

Father looked up and smiled as Catherine entered the library.

"You look better."

Catherine sat in a chair opposite him and smiled. "I feel better, Father. Thank you so much for helping me today."


Father reached over and felt her brow. He grunted approvingly at the lack of fever evident. "Well, I could give you another dose of ibuprofen. I would imagine itís still painful."

Catherine nodded. "Thereís a constant dull ache. I hope it goes away by tonight, Vincent and I were planning on attending a concert in the park."

Father stood and walked to his desk and grabbed the medicine bottle. He handed Catherine two tablets. He poured her a glass of water and she obediently took the medicine.

"Good girl. Vincent was called away to fix a burst water pipe. It may be a few hours. Why donít you try to get some rest? I believe he fixed up the guest chamber for you."

"That does sound good right now. I left my bag in Vincentís chamber. Iíll get it and go lie down for awhile." Catherine stood and leaned over and kissed Fatherís cheek. "Thank you."

Father blushed and smiled as she walked out.

**************************************

Catherine walked into Vincentís chamber and stood as her eyes adjusted to the dim light. As she walked across the dark room, she stubbed her toe on a chair and sat down on the bed. She slipped her shoe off and started to rub her aching foot. With a sigh, she glanced around the room and at the inviting pillows at the other end of the bed. With a shrug, she slipped off her second shoe and crawled to the head of the bed. She glanced down and saw Vincentís cloak. She reached to grab it, covering herself with it as she lay her head down on his pillow. Vincentís cloak around her, she cocooned herself with his unique smell and snuggled into the warmth. She drifted to sleep, pretending she was wrapped in his arms.

Three hours later, a wet and muddy Vincent headed into the library.

"Father, the repairs have been completed."

Father grinned at his sonís appearance. "Good, good! By the looks of you it was no small job."

Vincent chuckled. "It took Kanin, Cullen, Mouse and I this long to fix it." He looked around the room. "You donít know where Catherine is, do you? I know sheís sleeping but I checked the guest chamber and sheís not there."

Mary came in carrying a small basket. "I didnít mean to eavesdrop but Iíve just come from your chamber. I went to drop off your laundry and Catherine is sound asleep in your bed. I took the liberty of grabbing you a change of clothes. I knew you would want to bathe after this afternoonís unexpected work detail."

Vincent took the basket Mary handed to him. "Thank you, Mary. I wonder if Iíll have time for a bath before she wakes up."

Mary patted his cheek. "Dear, she was sound asleep. She must be exhausted from all the pain sheís suffered through between last night and today. Take your bath!"

Vincent nodded. "If she wakes..."

Father rolled his eyes. "I am sure we can entertain Catherine for a half hour or so until you join us. You know, she doesnít only come Below to see you."

Vincent blushed then turned to the bathing chamber as Father and Mary chuckled behind him.

After his half hour bath, Vincent peeked into his chamber. His heart flipped in his chest as he looked in on Catherine. She was snuggled down on his bed covered by his cloak and still sound asleep.

Two hours later, Vincent was sitting in the library playing chess with Father. Through the bond he felt a faint flutter and knew Catherine was slowly starting to wake. Raising his hand, he quickly moved his bishop across the board and ended the game.

"Check and mate."


Father scowled as he looked down at the board. "How did you...I never saw...damn!"

Vincent chuckled. "Sorry, Father. I gave you ample time to see it. The move has been there through at least two turns."

"Humph!" Father grumbled.

"Catherine is waking. Iím going to check on her."

In one fluid motion, Vincent stood and left the room and headed to his chamber.

 

***************************

He peeked in a saw Catherine roll to her back. With a grimace, she quickly continued to roll over and face the chamber. She bent her head and looked at the doorway.

"Youíre back."

Vincent came forward. "Yes, for several hours now."

Catherine sighed. "Iím sorry. I was just so tired. I came in here for my bag and stubbed my toe. I took off my shoe to rub it and then next thing I knew I was asleep."

Vincent sat in the chair close to the bed. "You needed the rest. You obviously didnít get any sleep last night."

Catherine covered her mouth as she yawned. "No, I didnít."

"Do you feel better?"

"Mmmm, much better thank you."

"Itís almost time for dinner."

Surprised, Catherine sat up. "What time is it?"

"After 5:00."

"Vincent, I slept over four hours?"

"Yes."

Catherine groaned and removed his cloak as she scooted to the end of the bed. "Do we have time to eat and get to the concert?"

Vincent nodded as he handed her shoes to her. "Yes, we can enjoy dinner then perhaps Father would check your back. Since weíll be so close, after the concert, Iíll walk you home. Unless youíd rather stay here."

Catherine blinked in surprise, trying to clear the sleep from her mind. "In your chamber?"


Vincent gasped, stood up and backed a few steps away from her. "No...I...meant...Below."

Catherine nodded quickly. "Of course you did. I donít know why I thought..." Inwardly she answered to herself. ĎI know why, because for the last 4 hours I pretended that I was wrapped in your arms.í

She smiled at him as she patted his arm. "Iíll go home. I want to call Jenny and see how she made out at the doctor. She was in the same shape as I earlier."

Catherine reached up and fluffed her hair then followed Vincent as he headed to the library.

"Father, Catherine and I are headed to dinner..."

Peter popped his head around the corner and Vincent stopped as he extended his hand. "Peter, itís good to see you."

Peter shook his hand. "Good evening, Vincent. Whereís our little patient?"

Catherine came out from behind Vincent. "Hi, Peter."

"Thereís my girl! Funny, I saw Jenny Aaronson at the hospital today and she mentioned that you were coming to see me. Have I been replaced?"

Catherine knew he was teasing and couldnít help joining in. "Not at all. I just knew that Father has so much more experience with sunburn I thought he would be the better choice."

Father chuckled while Vincent raised his brows with amusement and smiled.

Peter pretended offense. "Well, Jacob here has suggested a second opinion. What do you think?"

Catherine shrugged. "Iím at your mercy! Anything anyone can do to make me feel better..."

Peter shook his head. "Short of trying skin grafts...I hate to be the bearer of bad news but you have to suffer this one out, kid. Fatherís told me everything heís done and thereís not much more to offer. How about if we take a look at it before dinner?"

Catherine turned to Vincent who nodded. She looked back. "Okay."

Peter guided her to the hospital chamber and Father and he examined her back. Catherine could hear them grunting and she felt an occasional poke to her back but that was all.

"You two arenít very forthcoming with information are you?"


Peter sighed. "Itís a bad burn, but it looks like itís going to heal nicely. Couple days from now itíll probably start peeling and itching. But most of the blisters are popped and I think youíre on your way to a full recovery."

Father put cream on her back and covered her with the cloth as she helped tape it to her ribs.

"Good idea, Jacob."

Father shrugged. "Necessity is the mother of invention." He tapped Catherineís back. "You can get dressed now, dear."

Father and Peter walked around the curtain ignoring their patient as Catherine got herself dressed. She smiled, realizing they had just dismissed her. She mumbled to herself. "I bet Mary wouldíve helped me get dressed."

Vincentís voice floated round the corner. "Catherine, did you say something?"

She blushed. "No, Iím..." She grunted as she pulled the dress over her head. "Ugh, almost...Ahhh...Done."

Catherine came around the corner as she tried to straighten out her dress. "There. Iím ready."

She smiled up as he looked down at her with amusement, guessing correctly what her problem was. "They left you to dress yourself?"

Catherine chuckled as she shook her head. "Individually they are great doctors, together they forget about their patient."

In that instant, Father hurriedly came back into the room. "My dear, Catherine. I forgot about your needing help..." He came to a stop. "Oh, you handled it alone...good I neednít have worried..."

Catherine, feeling quite devilish, looked at him seriously. "Actually Father when you and Peter left me alone I couldnít manage on my own. Vincent needed to come and helped me pull the gown over my head..."

Both men gasped. Father looked at his son as Vincent looked away. Fumbling for words, he continued. "Iím sorry, Peter and I walked away and I...Vincent, you shouldnít have...I mean what if..."

"Father, I didnít..."

Father looked at Catherine who had crossed her arms in front of her and looked at him quite innocently until she could stand it no more and her face broke out into a grin.

"Gotcha! But you and Peter have got to work on your bedside manner!"

Father blushed. "I am sorry."

Catherine came up and took his arm. "Iíll forgive you if you escort me to dinner."

Father chuckled and patted her hand as she rested it on his arm. Vincent followed behind them, letting his mind wander to the implications of having to help Catherine get dressed. He moaned in distress.

Father called out over his shoulder. "Vincent, whatís wrong."

"Oh, I...hit my hand against the wall. Itís nothing."

Knowing Vincentís mind was elsewhere, Peter chuckled as Father reprimanded him. "Well, try to be more careful."

Catherine looked back at Vincent clearly wondering what had really happened.

****************************

Dinner was a lovely affair and Vincent and Catherine sat back and enjoyed the company of their family and friends. The hour passed and it would be time for them to leave to go to their spot in the tunnels where they would listen to the concert in the park.

Catherine settled down gingerly on the cushions Vincent placed around her. Soon enough, he sat next to her. Catherine reached into her bag and retrieved the bottle of wine. Vincent raised his eyes in surprise.

"Wine, Catherine?"

"I know. Iíve never seen you drink it except for Winterfest but I thought that since this was a special occasion..."

Vincent looked even more surprised as his mind flooded with important dates he could have forgotten. "Catherine, Iím sorry, I donít remember what occasion is it?"

Catherine laughed. "Why should you? I just made it up. Let me see...um...this is our fifth concert in the park...will that do?"

Vincent shook his head as he took the bottle from her. "Perhaps another night. You have taken some medicine."

"Ooh, youíre right. I should have thought of that. Weíll save this bottle for another time. But...I do have dessert!"

Catherine brought out a bag of candy and unwrapped a piece of chocolate. Without thinking, she popped it into Vincentís mouth. He blinked in surprise as he blushed.

Catherine ignored his embarrassment as she nonchalantly unwrapped another piece. "Is it good?"


Vincent nodded as she popped it into her mouth and settled back against the wall. "Ouch!" She winced in pain as she sat up again.

Vincent leaned back against the wall. Shyly he looked over at her as he put his arm up in the air, giving her a place to lean up against him.


Catherine smiled as she scooted her backside against his hip and leaned back into his chest. "Much better, thank you."

Vincentís arm dangled in the air and Catherine brought it down around her waist, their clasped hands resting in her lap. The music started and they were soon taken away into a magical world as the sounds drifted to them from Above.

An hour and a half later, the orchestra quieted then started again for a last encore. Catherine had snuggled closer to Vincent and laid her head against his chest, listening to his steady heartbeat as she tuned into the orchestra.

Finally all was silent in the world Above. Distant voices carried to them from far away as people left the park.

"Vincent, it was wonderful tonight."

"Yes."

"Thank you for bringing me here."

"That you could find joy in this place fills me with wonder..."

"Vincent, this is a wonderful spot, I told you that before and I meant it."

Vincent shrugged. "I should get you home."

He stood and turned to help her up. Catherine grimaced as the gown shifted on her burns.

"Do you need to see, Father?"

"No, Peter promised to come by in the morning. Iíll probably head to bed and try to sleep some more."

Vincent packed up the blankets and cushions then led the way towards her threshold. They held hands and slowly walked the tunnels, enjoying the last few minutes of their night together.

At the threshold, Catherine turned to face him. "Thanks for helping me salvage this day. I had fun."

"I too, enjoyed the time we spent together. Perhaps we can do it again tomorrow."

Catherine smiled. "Iíll come down around lunch?"

Vincent nodded. "Goodnight, Catherine."

Catherine sighed. "I wish you could hug me."

Vincent stepped forward and gently surrounded her with his arms. His hair enclosed her face which was close to his neck and Catherine sighed contentedly.

She leaned in and kissed his exposed neck as he jumped back. She stepped away and smiled coyly. "Goodnight, Vincent."

She headed up the steps as he stood there. Eventually, he came to his senses and headed towards his chamber.

**************************

Catherine woke to someone knocking at her front door. She groggily looked at the alarm clock. It was only 8:30 in the morning. She looked out through the peephole and saw Peter.

Peter walked in as the door was opened. "Wake up, sleepyhead."

Catherine groaned. "Iím awake."

"Sorry to come by so early but I have another call to make. Jennyís in real trouble. She had an allergic reaction to the medicine the intern prescribed in the emergency room. Iím heading over there next. Her familyís out of town and I wondered..."

Catherine had snapped awake immediately when Peter talked of Jennyís problems and interrupted him. "Of course Iíll go with you, Peter."

"You take a quick shower and Iíll get your back fixed up then weíll head over together."

Catherine ran towards her bedroom as she called out over her shoulder. "Could you start a pot of coffee?"


Peter smiled and headed towards the kitchen as Catherine showered. Ten minutes later, Catherine stood with her head in a towel waiting for Peter to apply cream to her back. That done she ran and combed out her hair and slipped into a loose shirt and pants.


Peter handed her a travel mug full of coffee and they were on their way out the door.

Peter looked at Catherineís still damp hair, her gray sweat pants and pink top and began to chuckle. "Not quite the fashion diva you used to be."

Catherine laughed. "Thank God! I think my priorities are a little more down to earth now."

Knowing she referred to the world Below, Peter threw back his head as they laughed together. The cab driver looked at them curiously as he made his way to Jennyís.

**********************************

Jenny opened the door and greeted them with a tearful smile. "Thanks for coming."

Peter hissed at the welts that covered Jennyís face and neck and the exposed areas that he could see.

"Are the hives all over your body?"

Jenny nodded. "Pretty much."

Peter grimaced and reached into his bag. "Well, first thing I recommend is taking some of these."

He opened the bottle and took out two tablets and handed them to her while Catherine ran to get a glass of water. Jenny took the water from Catherine and swallowed the medicine.

Peter pointed at the bathroom. "Now I want you to take a long bath and soak in the tub for at least forty minutes. Did you sleep in your bed last night?"


"Yes."

Peter turned to Catherine. "Her sheets will need to be changed. Do you think you can handle it?"

Catherine nodded. "Of course. It may take me awhile but I should be able to do it."

"Okay, off you two go."

Jenny miserably headed for the bathroom. Catherine finished changing the sheets when Jenny stepped out of the bathroom.

"Feel better?"

Jenny shook her head. "Honestly? No."

Catherine held up a sheet. "Wrap up in this sheet. Peter will need to see your back anyway." Jenny turned around and Catherine wrinkled her nose. "Ugh, I wonder if thatís what mine looks like. I canít believe I let..."

Catherine gasped as she realized she was about to say that she couldnít believe she let Vincent see her like that.

Jenny turned around. "You canít believe what? That we did this to ourselves?"

Catherine nodded. "Yes, thatís exactly what I was going to say. Címon letís show Peter your back."

Jenny stood in front of Peter as he administered antibacterial ointment to her entire back. The hives had made Jennyís burn itch like mad and the blisters she had were all broken open.

Peter tisked his disapproval. "Both of you girls have done a number on your backs. Cathy, yours is doing pretty well but Jenny here will need several applications of medicine...Why donít you both take it easy for the day and spend it together?"

Jenny smiled through the tears. "Oh, Cath! Will you spend the day with me? We can watch old movies and eat ice cream?"

Catherine thought of Vincent but knew she couldnít disappoint Jenny. She needed her help and Catherine would be there for her. "Sure, Jen. It sounds like fun."

Jenny went to get dressed while Peter packed up his bag. Catherine glanced to make sure Jenny couldnít heart her then leaned into Peter. "Could you get word to Vincent that I canít come Below? Just tell him what happened, heíll understand."

Peter nodded and whispered back. "Iím heading Below now. One of the kids is still having trouble with his tonsils."

Jenny came in the room. Peter kissed Catherine on the cheek and then turned to Jenny. He handed her a bottle of the ointment and then kissed her cheek as well. "This stuff goes on every couple of hours. Okay?"

Both girls nodded. Peter opened the door and turned as he walked outside. "Okay, you kids have fun."

"Bye, Peter."

"Thanks, Peter."

Jenny and Catherine headed to the couch and Jenny popped in a DVD of "Gone With The Wind."


Catherine laughed as it started. "Wow, you picked a long movie!"

Jenny shrugged. "Weíve got all day."

Catherine wrinkled her nose. "I know but Iím hungry. What have you got to eat?"

"Not much, I was supposed to go shopping today. I have a big bag of Oreo cookies."

"Mmmm...Milk?"

Jenny laughed. "Oh, yeah!"

Catherine ran into the kitchen and poured two big glasses of milk. She grabbed the bag of cookies and started to turn when she decided to look in the freezer. On the door was a quart of mint chocolate chip ice cream. She grabbed it and got two spoons out from the kitchen drawer. She found a cutting board leaning against the wall behind the toaster and started piling everything on top of it. She carried the makeshift tray out to the living room.

"Jackpot! You have ice cream too."

Jenny laughed. "That was for my neighborís daughter, she was supposed to come over today. I had to cancel."

Catherine grinned wickedly. "More for us...start the movie."

The two friends ate until they were sick and then cried as the trials of Scarlet OíHara unfurled on the screen. The movie ended and Catherine stood up to stretch. She groaned as her skin pulled tight against her back.

Jenny grimaced as well as she stood up. "What a pair we are! Thank god we have no Rhett Butlerís in our lives to see how stupid we were."


Catherine chuckled and agreed with her friend but thought of Vincent and how sympathetic he had been.

"Címon, Jen. Peter said we need to put this medicine on your back every couple of hours. That movie was at least three hours long, We should each take some ibuprofen, too."

They each took their medicine then Jenny stripped off her shirt. Catherine gasped at her friendís raw skin. It looked horrible and painful. She cleaned it off as best as she could then applied the cream Peter supplied. Jenny moaned with relief when the cooling sensation finally took effect.

Catherine helped her put her top on as Jenny cried out in pain. "Sorry, Jen. You okay?"

"Yeah, Man it hurts!"

"I know."

Jenny motioned. "Your turn. Turn around and Iíll apply some on your back."

Catherine stripped off her shirt and turned around. "Gently..."

"I know." Jenny carefully applied the cream. "Cath, your back looks like itís starting to get better. I bet it starts peeling in a couple of days."

"Oh great, thereís nothing better than an itchy back and no one to scratch it."

Jenny laughed. "Use the corner of the wall, thatís what I do."

Catherine shrugged. "What should we do now?"

"Another movie?"

Catherine sighed and headed to the couch. "What else you got?"

Jenny dug out another romance and the two friends sat and watched. Jenny fell asleep and Catherine snuggled down and pictured her and Vincent as the leads in the movie. It wasnít long before she joined Jenny in sleep.

 

**********************************

Peter had gone Below and informed Vincent of Catherineís change of plans. Both he and Father expressed concern over Jennyís well being and were grateful that she had someone like Catherine to watch after her.

Peter and Father handled the tonsil emergency. Peter concurred with Fatherís diagnosis. He promised to come and help with surgery in a few days.

They came back to the library to sit with Vincent. After a few hours of visiting, Peter stood to leave.

"I guess I should check on my two patients Above."

Vincent cocked his head and smiled shyly. "Theyíre sleeping...or rather Catherine is..."

Peter grinned. "Well, maybe Iíll check on them later. Iíll see you Wednesday, Jacob, if Kyleís tonsils get any worse call for me."

"I will. Thank you, Peter."

***********************************

Catherine and Jenny slept well through the afternoon. Jenny woke and stretched her leg and bumped Catherineís thigh. Catherine woke and at once noticed the lateness of the hour.

"Another day, wasted."

Jenny chuckled. "Yeah, I had so much to do today."

Catherine nodded in agreement then sighed. "Well, should we order something in for dinner? After that Iíll need to head home."

Jenny ordered salads as well as manicotti and garlic bread from an Italian place down the block. She hung up the phone and looked at Catherine. "Itíll be here in an hour."

Catherine smiled. "Okay. Hey, why donít you go take another shower and let the water clean your back? Then Iíll reapply the cream for you, this way after weíre done eating, I can head home right away."

Jenny nodded and left to shower while Catherine watched the news. Half an hour later, Jenny sat in front of her while Catherine applied the cream.

"Thanks, Cathy. I left a shirt out for you. You can take a shower too and Iíll apply cream to your back."

Catherine nodded. "Okay, be out in a minute."

Jenny got out plates and silverware for their dinner. She placed wine glasses out as well and uncorked a bottle of red wine she had in her wine rack.


Catherine came out and Jenny slathered her back with cream. Catherine went to dress and heard Jenny answer the front door. Their dinner had arrived.

The two friends ate dinner while they talked and joked over every topic under the sun. Catherine had a wonderful time. It had been years since she and Jenny spent this much time together.

Two hours later, Catherine insisted she had to head home. "Jen, Iíve got to be at work tomorrow."

"How can you think of putting on a bra?"

Catherine laughed. "Iím thinking of wearing a jacket to cover up for the fact that Iím not going to have one on."

Jenny laughed. "Good idea. Maybe Iíll try that."

Jenny walked her to the door. "Thanks for spending the day with me, Cath."

Catherine started to leave then stopped. "What will you do tomorrow?"

"My mom comes home in the morning...Iíll ask her to come here and then Iíll stop by her house after work. What about you?"

Catherine waved her hand. "Iíll stop by Peterís office in the morning then see how I feel tomorrow night."

Jenny nodded. "Take care."

"You too, Jen. Goodnight."

***********************************

The next morning, Catherine did stop by Peterís office. He took care of her back and then she put in an astonishing long day at work.

Late that night, she wearily let herself into her apartment. She blinked in surprise to see a shadow moving on her balcony. She walked quickly out the terrace doors.

"Vincent!"

"Catherine, you worked late tonight."

"I didnít know you were coming..."

He shook his head. "Neither did I. I was delivering some medicine to a helper when I felt your discomfort. How are you feeling?"

Catherine sighed. "Tired."

"And Jenny?"

"I talked to her before I left work, her momís taking care of her."

Vincent looked at her sternly. "Whoís taking care of you?"

Catherine chuckled. "Peter did this morning. I was going to come Below then Joe handed me some new information for the Garver case and then..." She sighed. "And then I looked up and it was 9:45. Joe walked me out the door and I was too tired or I would have come Below to see Father."

"Howís your back?"

Catherine shrugged. "Its better...I guess...couple of times my shirt stuck to it but itís not as painful as it used to be." She thought quietly for a minute then looked at him. "If youíre not in a hurry could you wait around for about twenty minutes?"

Vincent smiled. "I can be here all night if thatís what you wish."

After the words left his mouth, he realized how it sounded. He blushed and looked away. Catherine smirked and was about to tease him and say Ďanother timeí but she chose to ignore his comment and not embarrass him further.

"I was thinking I could take a quick shower and if you wouldnít mind, maybe you could put cream on my back again?"

Vincent looked uncomfortable but nodded. "Of course, Catherine. If it will help you."

Catherine jumped. "Be back in a little bit. Can I get you some tea?"

Vincent smiled coyly. "Do you have any chocolate left?"

Catherine grinned and ran into her kitchen and grabbed the bag in the fridge. She ran back out and handed it to him. "Theyíll be cold but it takes longer to melt in your mouth."

Vincent took the bag from her and nodded while she turned and headed to the shower. Fifteen minutes later she was out and standing in front of Vincent in the same backless gown she wore the other night.

Vincent carefully applied the lotion to her back. "Thereís been some improvement."

"Good, I was wondering how much longer I would have to suffer for my stupidity."

Catherineís phone rang and she looked over at it ruefully. She let the machine pick it up as she heard Joeís voice asking if she was home and safe.

Vincent stood. "Call him back, Catherine. I need to get Below to tell Father about the progress of Lyle, the helper I took medicine to. Besides, you should rest."

Catherine looked up hopefully. "Will I see you tomorrow?"

Vincent shook his head. "I have sentry duty all night. The next night there is another concert in the park..."

Catherine thought for a second then smiled. "I donít have anything going. Itís a date!"

Vincent shyly nodded then turned to leave when Catherine grabbed his arm. "Can I get a hug?"

Vincent chuckled and turned to her and gently enfolded her in his arms.

"Tighter, Vincent."

"Catherine...I donít want to hurt you."

"I canít even feel your arms. I tell you when..." Vincent tightened his embrace and Catherine snuggled in. When his arms got too close to her burn she laughed. "When."

Vincent stopped immediately and held her close then he backed away slowly. "Goodnight, Catherine."

"Goodnight, see you Wednesday."

**********************************

Catherine had two hectic days at work. By Wednesday, she was exhausted but looking forward to her night with Vincent. She ran home and showered then started to get ready. Her back was starting to itch and she could see in the mirror that her skin was peeling.

She tried to scratch it with a letter opener but nothing she picked up could reach the spot she wanted. She looked at the corner of the wall and shimmied up against it, scratching her back against it. The relief was short lived.

With a sigh, Catherine glanced at the clock and headed Below. Vincent was waiting at the threshold and they held hands and made small talk on the way to their spot.

They settled down just as the music was starting. Catherine leaned back against the rock wall and every once in a while rocked back and forth against it, scratching at her back.

Vincent looked at her curiously until Catherine rocked continuously and he could contain his curiosity no longer.

"Catherine, what are you doing?"


Catherine blushed as she realized he had noticed. "Vincent, my back itches so badly."

He cocked his head. "Can I help?"

"Will you scratch it for me?"

"With what?"

Catherine raised her eyebrows. "With your nails, of course."


Vincent gasped. "With these hands? Catherine, I could seriously hurt you."

Catherine shook her head. "Iíve told you a million times, you could never hurt me..." She wriggled against the wall and pleaded with him. "Vincent! Iím going crazy here...please?"

Vincent let out the breath he was holding. "What do I have to do?"

"Go up under the back of my shirt and just gently run your nails over my back..."

He shook his head. "I donít..."

Catherine interrupted his protest. "Just try it?"

Vincent reached up her shirt and put his hand on the place between her shoulders. He lightly began to move his hand back and forth.

Catherine groaned in ecstasy. "Oh God, that feels great! Can you move to the left?"

Vincent complied and Catherine groaned again. "Now to the right?" Again, Vincent complied and Catherine wriggled back against his hand, making him scratch harder.

Vincent listened to her through the bond to assess if he was hurting her in any way. He moved his hands to different areas on the back and she sat there in ecstasy.

"Vincent, remind me that I owe you this in return one day."

"Catherine, Iím not likely to get sunburned living Below."

Catherine looked over her shoulder. "Vincent, didnít anyone ever just scratch your back for pleasure?"

Vincent blinked in surprise. He would never allow anyone to get that close to him and yet in the recesses of his mind he seemed to remember being a young boy and having Mary sitting on the bed next to him scratching his back. He remembered feeling safe and loved.

"Vincent?"

"I...donít know..."

Catherine turned back and faced forward. "Well, one day Iím going to scratch your back forever...at least a whole hour."

Vincent shivered as he thought of what his back must look like compared to a Ďnormal maní and Catherine shivered as she thought about running her hands up and down his muscles. Both became uncomfortable with the turn their thoughts had taken and Vincent reluctantly pulled his hand away.

Catherine turned and smiled. "Thanks, that was perfect."

Vincent lowered his head and nodded.

The concert ended and Catherine and he headed back to her apartment threshold. Catherine turned and reached for him.

"Thanks for getting me through this past week. I donít know how I would have done it without you."

"Iíll always be there for you, Catherine."

They hugged and as he released her Catherine reached up and kissed his cheek. She quickly turned away then each headed back to their homes.


Catherine walked home thinking that this week had brought them closer physically then any other time in her life. She marveled that she had been able to show him that his hands would never hurt her that they were in fact, nurturing. She chuckled, thinking that it would have never happened had she not gotten sunburned. "I guess thatís why they say all clouds have a silver lining."

She crawled into bed dreaming of giving Vincent the back rub of a lifetime.

 

 

THE END